Contentious property-rights debate Alberta’s seemingly endless journey

Just when you thought it was out of sight and out of mind, the PC government brings back the issue that lost them rural southern Alberta

Just when you thought it was out of sight and out of mind, the PC government brings back the issue that lost them rural southern Alberta, and almost much of the rest of rural Alberta in the last election.

The government passed Bill 2 — the Responsible Energy Development Act. It’s a large bill that covers a lot of energy industry-related ground and includes the consolidation of legislation covering landowner rights in regard to energy development.

But just the thought of “property rights” was guaranteed to set off the opposition Wildrose Party, and other government critics. A raucous debate ensued in the legislature, with the Opposition leader labelling the proposed legislation the “Franken Bill.”

Others called it the worst legislation ever imposed on innocent landowners in the history of civilization — or words to that effect.

It would seem that “property rights” is the gift that just keeps on giving for the Wildrose Party. And as the giver, the PC government just can’t seem to figure out how to stop giving this gift to their political foes. But then, one suspects the government was thinking more along the lines of punishment rather than benevolence toward those rural voters who had the audacity to vote against the PC party ruling dynasty. Too bad, because it could, or rather should, have been done with a lot more buy-in from the rural land-owning public.

From the government perspective, it tidies up an area that was contained in six previously passed conservations acts. That would seem to be a bureaucratic/legal matter that would make administration of the legislation easier.

But one wonders as to the awareness of real-world reality of those drafting the legislation when the government itself made 15 amendments to fix obvious problems and omissions.

The government spin was that the legislation was the result of information they gathered from stakeholders. Considering the opposition reaction to the legislation, the government clearly did not address all of the property rights concerns. But then, ruling governments are not prone to listening to their political foes whether they are right or not. The opposition introduced 20 amendments of its own — which were all promptly rejected by the government. One ponders; were all those amendments really wrong, or was it just because they were introduced by the opposition — that’s politics, I guess.

From a cynical point of view, keeping the “property rights” issue alive with another government bill is something of a boon to the Wildrose Party. That issue formed the centrepiece of their campaign in rural Alberta with much success. The party is now able to keep stoking the embers of discontent in readiness for the next election.

The PC government also intends to repeat history, believing that if only misguided landowners were informed of the facts, they would all happily rally behind the legislation. The previous energy minister, Ted Morton, fervently believed in that mantra, but then he lost his seat in the last election. I think there was a message there.

Present Energy Minister Ken Hughes has vowed that he will engage in a province-wide speaking tour to inform misled landowners of the wisdom of his legislation. As is the practice when speaking on controversial issues, the minister’s political handlers will probably be seeking out friendly audiences to create a positive PR response.

Nothing new there — the legislation’s opponents will no doubt be doing exactly the same thing for their side. One does wish that there could be some better credible public-consultation mechanism to create what everyone agrees is much-needed legislation to protect landowner rights. The reality is that the courts will be the final arbitrator of the fairness of all of the property-rights legislation. As usual lawyers will have the last laugh.

All of this causes one to ponder if there is a jurisdiction somewhere in the world where all sides, stakeholders and landowners are generally happy with the legislation that governs their property rights.

Every area has unique circumstances, but surely Alberta is not the first jurisdiction that has had to deal with this issue.

Perhaps we should have tried harder to learn from others before starting on what has turned out to a most acrimonious and endless journey.

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